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updated: 6/12/2012 8:21 AM

Elgin fraternal organizations want exemption to gambling ban

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Unlike many communities throughout the state, Elgin doesn't have to do a thing if it wants to keep video gambling out of town. "Gambling devices" have been prohibited by the municipal code for years, independent of the 2009 Video Gaming Act, which hundreds of communities have responded to with gambling prohibitions of their own.

City council members will discuss video gambling this week nonetheless, considering whether they want to change the ordinance to allow the machines the Illinois Gaming Board soon could license.

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Right now the city's options seem to be limited to all or nothing -- either the council allows gambling and any eligible establishment could apply for a license from the state or the council maintains the prohibition.

But a group of 14 local organizations, the United Civics Association, is hoping for something in between.

"What we're looking at is something for towns who opt out of the gambling, for them to be able to permit clubs like ours," said Dave Bergholt, president of the Elgin United Civics Association and a member of the Eagles, Moose, Owls and VFW Men's Auxiliary.

The exemption would have to come from the state level because municipalities don't have any say in who gets a license if they don't opt out of gambling based on the 2009 act.

Bergholt said revenue from the gambling machines would be a help to financially struggling organizations, but it would also be an extra draw to get members into the clubs.

Unlike licensed restaurants that serve liquor, which are also eligible for the machines under the state law, fraternal and veteran organizations generally have closed memberships and would have more regulated play.

Many already sell pull tabs or host bingo.

Mayor David Kaptain, who is opposed to lifting the prohibition on gambling, said he would support a push to allow gambling strictly in fraternal and veteran organizations.

Kaptain said money those organizations bring in is regularly given to charity or put back into the community. The mayor is otherwise in a tight spot concerning gambling, considering he just sent a letter to Gov. Pat Quinn urging a veto to the state gambling bill.

"To say that it's not OK to do gaming in Arlington Heights at the racetrack, but we're going to do it in Elgin would be hypocritical," Kaptain said.

In Elgin, about 65 establishments would be eligible for the video gambling machines. Revenue estimates about the income from the machines include $13,500 in taxes per machine for the state and $2,250 for the municipality each year.

But projected losses cited by the Grand Victoria Casino if gambling is allowed could outweigh any tax benefit the city sees from the machines, according to city officials.

Council members will discuss the ordinances already in place during the committee of the whole meeting Wednesday and debate whether to change them.

Bergholt said there is no timeline for the United Civics Association's petition to the state. The member organizations plan to research possibilities and draft a letter in coming weeks.

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